The God of Stories clutched his wool robes around himself in a futile attempt to ward off the whipping winds. He remembered back when a winter such as this meant busy streets full of slush from cars mowing over the fresh layers of snow. The neighbors would grumble as the shoveled the several inches of powdered ice off their front walkways, while the kids next door would invite him to snowball wars and sledding nearby the lake.
How many centuries has it been since those days? He wondered to himself.
His time away from Earth was hard to determine. He had lived decades on Vludahayv, but it seemed centuries had passed on Earth—most remnants of the human race had been devoured by nature and time. The God of Stories could only weave himself a tale of warm sunlight, and cozy fireplaces, and steaming mugs of coffee to battle the frostbite and numbness in his old legs.
He was glad that he still had those memories from his childhood, even after all his time in Vludahayv. When he was thirteen years old, living in a small Midwestern town, he had been an aspiring writer with little self esteem. He would scribe stories on scraps of notebook paper and the backsides of school assignments, only to shake his head and throw them away. On one such occasion—after writing a lovely poem about the unfortunate condition of being an awkward teenage male on a quest for true love—he crumpled up his composition and chucked it into what he thought was a sophisticated-looking garbage can in a back alley. That can was, in fact, a Vludahayvan scouting vessel that had been waiting for nightfall before initiating a “jump” back to its home planet. The quail-sized Vludahayvans inside were captivated by the strange markings on this crinkly alien material. After a quick translation by their ship’s computer and rereading the foreign prose, the scouts felt something within them that they had never experienced before; it was a thrilling yet horrible sensation, a warm tingle that was also an electric sting. What was this indecipherable impression that this linguistic puzzle was having on them? Whatever it was, clearly it had been delivered to them for a reason—clearly it had been gifted to them by a god.
So before you could say “prepubescent divinity,” the boy was encased in a transport bubble, sucked into a manually-torn worm hole, and plucked off the face of the earth and set gently down on the hazy magenta-and-turquoise world of Vludahayv.
A Victorian Queen Anne mansion was eminent in the distance—although it was more like a castle of icy-silver chrome. A forest encircled the castle, but these were not the trees of the god’s childhood memories. These were cold lifeless structures of iron, the leaves made from flattened gold, bronze and copper. A garden of twisted metallic shapes, contortion of cogs and gears and springs and wires, cluttered the grounds to create an exotic menagerie.
The God of Stories approached the front doors of the mansion. He raised his hand to knock, when a tiny creature popped out from a panel in one of the doors. It was a wind-up doll with a kingfisher’s head.
“No men of flesh welcome,” the bird-doll chimed.
The God of Stories smirked. “I am the God of Stories, from the world of Vludahayv. I would like to speak with your Mistress. I believe she has a small blue disk, and I would like to negotiate its price.”
The bird-doll vanished back into the panel. The doors lethargically swung inwards with a long, yawning creak. The God of Stories trudged inside, shaking the snow from his drenched robes and soggy boots. He was greeted by a sterile hallway, leading towards a steel archway that framed a dark parlor.
He walked down the hall and through the archway, squinting to see through the dark. An orange-tinted light abruptly dismissed the darkness, accompanied by a searing buzz that took a few seconds to dissipate. The god took in the room, an abstract concoction of industrial anatomy, and it smelled heavily of oil and things burnt. He thought of the Dali painting of melting watches—perhaps because there was a surreal beauty to this place that made the cold, metal surroundings appear organic, as if beneath all these parts could be soft, warm flesh.
He stopped short when he noticed the face looking at him.
There was a figure, seated upright, its slender hands folded on its lap. An hourglass-shaped torso supported a mannequin-type head, which was framed by a headdress decorated with cobalt blue glass and silver leafing. The eyes were solid gray, like the thickest smoke trapped within two glass orbs. The rest, however, was so natural, aside from the glossy porcelain sheen of the paper-white skin, that it made the God of Stories’ heart cringe to think that this woman had once been a human being.
“Thank you for agreeing to see me,” the God said, bowing as far as his aching back allowed. “Am I in the presence of the Mech-Oracle?”
The figure said nothing.
“May I sit down? I was teleported down at a rather inconvenient location, and I’ve just walked quite a distance to get here.” He spotted an iron-wrought chair, so he sat down on it with a contented sigh. “Now, down to business. You are in possession of a disk, I believe. Small, blue, quite valuable?”
The Mech-Oracle remained still, and he wondered if, perhaps, she had broken down or was not even turned on. He took in a deep breath as he momentarily visualized her story, just to make sure that she had not arrived at the end of her tale and was deceased. But no, her story was still in process. She was just being stubborn.
“Miss Constance, it’s not nice to ignore your guests,” the God playfully chided.
Her eyelids tightened around her soulless eyes in a narrow glare.
“Ah, good. You’re listening. You don’t like your old name, do you?” He smirked, and shifted in his seat. “I know all about your story, my dear. I know everybody’s story. It was a talent I picked up on Vludahayv. I developed a keen ear for all the life stories going on around me, and even the ones streaming to me from Earth. But then they all came to a sudden stop…the Earth stories. Seven billion lives, just stopped. Like a book slammed shut on the entire world.” He closed his eyes and shivered as he remembered that moment about thirty Vludahayvan years ago, that jarring pang as all the beautiful stories of men, women, and children were cut short, and then nothing but blank pages stretching on and on. “You know why that happened, don’t you?
The Mech-Oracle’s lips parted into a slit as she whispered, “The Crash.”
“Yes, the Crash.” The most that the God of Stories knew, based on the Earth stories up until then, was that all the world’s governments had convinced the people that it was necessary for everyone to download themselves—that is, their minds, personalities, whatever could be considered one’s “essence”—into a computerized mega-system in order to preserve the human race from some global crisis, something their physical bodies would not be able to survive. Each government had come up with something different; there was an incurable virus that was wiping out humanity, there was a solar flare heading towards the Earth that would incinerate it; there was a water shortage that would be all used up within fifteen years, and so on. Somehow they had convinced, or forced, all the people to download themselves into a special Haven Mainframe…only shortly thereafter, there was a “little bug” in the system. Before any of the overseeing scientists could catch it, the Crash occurred. Seven billion people’s data, their consciousnesses, were lost. The stories that had remained—the scientists, the politicians, the puppetmasters, the ones that allowed the end of humanity to happen—the God of Stories was too disgusted with them to continue listening. By now, their stories had ended as well.
His face hardened at the memory of the terrible tale. “I thought all the stories ended there. I thought there was no reason to ever come back to Earth. But there was one story left that had not ended. Yours.”
The Oracle’s fingers twitched.
“I’ve read your story. It’s very sad. But I don’t need to tell you. You’ve lived it.” The God stood up, cracking his back. “But the part of your story I’m interested in is the one where you, in secret, managed to create a back-up copy of the Haven Mainframe, a restoration disk of humanity’s collective consciousness. May I see it?”
The Oracle cocked her head in a worn-down, jerking motion. “Why?”
“It isn’t just data in that disk. Those are souls. Those are innocent people’s essences stuck in limbo as long as that disk remains. They have no bodies to return to. But they cannot stay imprisoned.” The God lowered his head, crossing his arms. “Their stories must come to an end. They must be released.”
“They will be,” the Oracle replied.
“Oh? That is a chapter not yet written. When were you planning to do that?”
“As soon as I finish building the vessels,” she replied coolly.
The God raised his eyebrows at her.
“I will select the best of the human minds from the Haven Mainframe,” the Oracle continued. “Ones of pure logic, integrity, and reason, that will take minimal effort to separate the emotion from the intelligence. After I have discarded the emotional aspects, I will upload the selected minds into the vessels I am creating. Then we can begin to rebuild what was lost.”
“I see. And what will you do with all the souls that you will not upload?”
The God knotted his eyebrows. “How many do you intend to save, then?”
“Seven thousand, two hundred and nineteen.”
“That few are worthy of your special favor, eh?” The god shook his head, sadly. “It’s not your privilege to judge who should be part of your new world. Nor is it your place to decide who should be denied existence, whether it is here or in the afterlife.”
“Is it yours?” the Oracle said, her voice remaining monotone. “You are blinded by your false status. You are considered a god on Vludahayv, but you are a man on Earth. You will die, as they all have. I have lasted centuries. I have seen humanity in all its harshness, selfishness, and ignorance. Surely you have seen this as well, through your psychic gift of story?”
The god nodded.
“Then what makes you think you know better than I what to do with this data?”
The God of Stories slowly paced the room. “I have seen those stories,” he admitted. “The cruelty, the prejudice, the hate. It may be the reason I stayed on Vludahayv for so long. Maybe I didn’t want to come home to all that…awfulness. But do you also remember compassion? Brotherhood? Love?”
“Foolishness,” the Oracle replied.
“Sometimes.” He smiled gently at her. “You didn’t always think so.”
“I have discarded my imperfect human emotions. I am pure logic now.”
“Ah. And if I can prove you wrong? Say, a trade…proof of your still-existent emotions in exchange for that disk?”
The Oracle’s expression was blank. “You will fail,” she said.
The god shrugged. He reached forward to place a hand on her shoulder, but instantly her body buzzed with a surge of electricity, a warning to stay away. He retracted his hand. “You were one of the scientists who designed the mainframe. Tell me, were you told to make a back-up of the Haven?”
“Then why did you?”
“It was logical.”
“Did you know that there was a possibility that the system would crash?”
The Oracle paused. “Not a possibility. An inevitability.”
“It was inevitable?”
“It was the plan.”
The God sucked in his breath. “The Crash was intended?”
“The only people who were intended to remain functional were the ones not downloaded into the Haven. It was a program meant to delete those who were not necessary for the next stages to redesign a universal world order.”
“Seven billion people…were not necessary…” Even though the God of Stories had picked up on these facts a while ago, from the stories of the people that had survived the ordeal, it didn’t dull the anger he felt in his heart.
“It was the most efficient method in which to execute the plan on a grand scale, without bloodshed or rebellion.” The Oracle paused again. “This causes you pain.”
The god lowered his gaze. “If you knew of this plan, then why did you make a back-up copy? Wouldn’t that be going against your orders?”
“I was foolhardy and sentimental. I couldn’t bare the thought of all those civilians lost. Yet making a back-up copy did not change the course of events. There was no way to upload the data back into the original bodies. Flesh is not like machine. Once the data is extracted, it is permanent…something the civilians were not told, of course.”
“Would you have done differently now, being purely logical?”
“I would have only made back-up files for the seven thousand, two hundred and nineteen I intend to use in my new vessels.”
“But you still would have saved some of them?”
“It’s not because of compassion that I do it. It is logical.”
“For what? To have a world populated with people like you? Made in your image?” The God of Stories was raising his voice now, and swept his arm around in a grand gesture. “I am the God of Stories because a race of people saw good in the stories I told them. I didn’t choose to be a ‘god,’ nor did I ask anyone to conform to my beliefs or views. They could take or leave the morality tales I gave them. But you, you choose who to save, who to make into your little wind-up dolls, who to serve your agenda. You call me blinded by my station. You, Miss Constance, are arrogant and self-serving. You are no different from the people who wiped out humanity to begin with!”
A long steel rod extended from the Oracle’s forearm, and at the end was a syringe full of some type of chemical. “You are unnecessary,” she said, and jutted the rod towards the god’s face. The needle stopped short only an inch from his nose.
The God of Stories stared back at her, patiently.
The Oracle was still. The rod retracted into her arm.
The God of Stories smiled.
“I gain nothing by deleting you,” the Oracle said.
“Perfectly logical,” the God replied.
“That did not feel good,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry I exploited your anger. I know you’ve carried it for a long time.”
The Oracle slowly sat back down. She was motionless for a few minutes. Eventually she tapped a small button on her wrist, from which a small blue disk popped from a tiny slot. She held it up to the God of Stories. “The data contained here must be what still ties me to those emotions. It is a liability for me to keep it until I can complete removing the emotional factors from my system.”
The God gently took the disk from the Oracle. “I know you’ll try. But isn’t it better to feel the bad things than not feeling anything?”
The Oracle was silent.
The God placed the disk in one of his robe pockets. “I believe that there is a way on Vludahayv for me to release these souls, without risk of deleting them. I suppose if it does not work, then I will return them to you.” He bowed again, and turned to go.
“You will return, whether or not your plan works?” the Oracle asked, in a completely different tone of voice that stopped the God short.
He turned back, transfixed by her new voice. “Would you like me to?”
The Oracle’s head was lowered, as if she was running low on power, but she managed to raise her head to him. He could swear her eyes did not seem as clouded over as before. “Are our stories meant to intertwine? Are you meant to come back?”
“I listen to the stories as they happen. I don’t write the endings.”
“Then…yes. I would like you to come back.”
He nodded, and smiled.
The Oracle, for the first time in a long, long time, grinned beneath her metallic façade. Even though he couldn’t see it, the God of Stories knew the smile was there.
He liked it when chapters ended with a smile.